What Exactly Does A Movie Director Do?

August 29, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Answers, Interesting

The Director of a film (or a play, or a television show episode) is the person responsible for the creative vision of the piece. They create a concept from the script (which may or may not be something concretely found in the script, it may be metaphorical or tangential) and from the concept lead the design and production team towards a collaborative vision. Once rehearsals/filming have begin, the director blocks the piece (i.e. tells actors where to move), provides objective and subtextual support to the actors (i.e. tells them why they are saying the things the writer wrote) and ensures that the visual style and setting are within the original vision or concept parameters.

In film, they also work closely with the DP, first story-boarding the script, and then, once on set, making sure that each shoot is framed, blocked and shot per their vision. Including ALL design aspects, from the color of the walls to the type of purse a character might wear.

In essence they are the Captain of the ship. A lot of my notes below can also be laid at the feet of bad writing, but in film (less so TV and theatre) directors have a great deal of oversight on the writing, so they are typically held accountable if the writing is terrible.

A film which has been directed badly will usually (but not always, the problem with a collaborative art form, which is what film is, is that there are many, many chefs in the kitchen. However, since the director tends to get the credit when everything works, they also tend to get the blame when it doesn’t)–usually show the following flaws:

  1. Incoherent story telling. You don’t know what is happening. Or why it is happening. Or who it is happening to. Sometimes things are just blatantly implausible.

  2. Cliche or trope ridden dialogue/shots/events. You feel like you’ve seen all of these things before. All the characters are stereotypes, all the plot points unfailingly predictable. Note: cliches, tropes and stereotypes can all be used well. But bad directors tend not to.

  3. Bad dialogue. Dialogue that is forced and unnatural. Dialogue that is too on-the-nose. People telling other people things instead of doing things. People explaining how they feel ad nauseam. Dialogue spoken only to allow for the plot to push forward, leading us to:

  4. Coincidental plotting, or plots hole you could drive a freight train through (not the small inconsistencies that almost every movie has, but HUGE giant massive oh-my-god-this-movie-is-broken plot holes). Coincidental plotting is when everything that has to happen for the plot to move forward does, without any effort on the part of the hero (or the bad guy).

  5. Bad acting. Directors are responsible for getting a performance out of their actors, so even if the actor can’t act (one reason why casting is important) the director is still the one people are going to hold responsible for any painful moments on screen (this is less true in TV and theatre).

  6. Over or under designed. Over designed is when the concept/vision of the piece becomes more important then any other element. Think 300: Rise of an Empire or Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (not-at-all-oddly, both Frank Miller graphic novel adaptations, where the look was where the design team started with). Tim Burton is also a well-known director who can go to far with his vision/design to the point of over balancing the movie. Under designing is when there is a lack of design and the production feels (usually) cheap or not-thought-through. Good design elevates the narrative, supports the characters and provides visual clues to the audience about what is happening–excellent design can comment on and complement the action, enhancing the entire experience.

  7. Movies/TV only: bad editing. Either because there were technical difficulties during filming and the needed shots weren’t gotten (or a director wasn’t prepared and didn’t get the shots they needed), and therefore the editor is attempting to make up for missing and/or bad shots; or because the editing itself is just bad. Odd cuts, odd shots going back to back, odd audio issues. Various other things. While most early directors at a studio on a movie won’t have any say over the final cut, most editing issues are from a lack of footage (which is the director’s issue), not bad editing. OR a director who does have final cut approval and shouldn’t, which is where you got a three-hour movie that should have been 2 hours and 10 minutes max.

  8. Poor production value. An overall feel that the movie wasn’t cared for (this isn’t about money, this is about time and support). Usually shows in bad lighting, bad audio, bad set dressing, bad costumes–just an overall sense that these things weren’t considered important or there wasn’t time to pay attention to them.

A film, tv show or theatrical play is an immense, multi-part beast, and the Director is the one that tries to tame it. To varying degrees of success. Every director probably has one (or many) bad movies to their name, as its how we all learn. The more telling test is not if they directed a bad movie, but if people wanted to work with them again. And, sometimes, the love of the thing they are creating can shine through the worst movie and make it, somehow, good (think Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead).

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